The more profound question, however, is not about the potential candidates about whom we shall all hear much in due course, but about the party. Canada is now a more ideological place than when the putative Martin dynasty collapsed.
Certainly the Harper Conservatives are far more ideological than the Progressive Conservatives whom they supplanted. In the face of this ideology, buttressed by an unshakeable, motivated and often angry core of about a third of the electorate, many of those who do not share, indeed fear, this ideology have shifted to the New Democrats as a sturdier vehicle with which to confront the Conservative bulldozer.
The Liberals were a protean party in a largely middle-class country, devoid of ideological moorings, capable of shifting according to events and circumstances, a party of internal compromise, the sturdiest bridge for many decades between French- and English-speaking communities and renowned for immigrant absorption into the party and Canada and a broad internationalist agenda in foreign policy.
From Wilfrid Laurier to Mr. Martin, the Liberals were anchored in Quebec. Now, they are a scattered remnant throughout the province, moribund in many regions, scarcely alive in others, vital in only a few. Since the demise of the Meech Lake accord, the largest number of francophone Quebeckers have withdrawn from governing Canada and preferred to be in opposition, first with the Bloc Québécois, now with the NDP. As they withdrew from governing Canada, by definition, they withdrew from the Liberals who were, after all, once the natural governing party of the country.
We live at a time of growing economic inequalities, which separate classes and groups. We live at a time of growing regional disparities, as Alberta and Saskatchewan leave the rest of the country behind. We live at a time of widespread economic uncertainty, with high debt levels, stagnant per capita incomes for the middle class, the fear of unemployment and no shelter from international economic storms.
To these anxieties the Conservatives offer their alternatives; to these divisions and inequalities, they largely turn their backs. In reply, more and more Canadians are turning to the NDP with its alternatives, which at least have the virtue of being known: more state activity paid for by higher corporate taxes, the foil for the Conservatives who prefer a smaller state and lower taxes.
The battle lines, ideologically and regionally, are drawn, and the Liberals are a bit on both sides of the line and definitely off to the side of the real action. It will take sharper analyses of the forces at work in the country and the world, and compelling ideas that flow from those analyses, to make the Liberals relevant.
To these anxieties the Conservatives offer their alternatives; to these divisions and inequalities, they largely turn their backs.
However, Mr. Simpson, having the country held hostage to 33% of angry red-neck bigots (conservatives) opposed by a state-focused opposition reduces Canada to a binary choice. Is that what the world, and the political world is reduced to, and is that what Canadian voters have left from which to choose?
For the past century, Canada has been relatively moderately and modestly well governed. While there certainly have been blips of arrogance and insensitivity, nothing really compares with the arrogance and insensitivity of the current government.
The "third option" seems so blatantly missing from so much of our public discourse. Binary choices, either-or propositions leave a culture and a people starved for something different than all-out war between two competing factions.
There are, also, in Canada so many bridges that need to be built, metaphorically, since Harper has just committed $1 billion to another bridge connecting Windsor to Detroit, without the State of Michigan anteing up a single penny, another of Harper's foreclosures.
Liberals could offer policy planks that would:
- bridge the east, central and western regions of the country, starting with healthy, collegial and collaborative formal, informal and regularly scheduled conversations with the provinces, to develop a national strategy for a number of national issues including: energy, environment, education, inter-provincial trade, health care standards, enhancements and efficiencies, food, shelter and employment opportunities and eliminating poverty across the land
- bridge the cultural divide that pits regions against one another for a pot of public support dollars that are meted out too much by patronage and not enough by excellence
- bridge the divide between economic development and environmental protection
- bridge the divide between competing international interests, as a medium-sized power mediator, negotiator and even arbitrator if requested
- bridge the gulf between new immigrants and the Canadian culture, in ways being led by former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson
- bridge the gulf between English, French and Native cultures, by fostering education, visitation and travel adventures between and among the various groups, for both learning and community development experiences
- bridge the gulf between what is known about Canadian history, politics and culture and what Canadians know about our own country through travel exchanges, community partnerships, educational opportunities including the development of CD's for example that could be shared from region to region, and televised on public television, as a way to open doors and minds to the people of this country, based on information about the people of this country, with a view to shattering some of the stereotypes
- bridge the gulf between the dollars available for scientific research and research in the humanities, culture, the arts and languages
- bridge the gulf between Canada's past and our future as a nation, building on our best accomplishments, while discarding some of the limiting shibboleths, archetypes and fossilized definitions and expectations
- bridge the gulf between a economy based on natural resources and an economy based primarily on information, research methodology, and complex communications
- Bridge the geographic gulf that separates the disparate regions from one another through a national transportation grid of new high-speed rail, short commuter flights and high-speed water transportation
- considering the political solution to the return of power to reside in a single person, man or woman
- maintaining the vatican structure of governance as no longer viable for the future life of the party
- holding the party's hand out as the primary purpose of communication with members/associates when there are so many knowledgeable people eager and willing to submit proposals on the 100-year vision of the country, for example, and no party is even considering soliciting such visions, so compacted is their current political vision that it barely extends to the next election in 2015
- changing the party's vision and focus from regaining power to educating and inspiring the people of the country through highlighting party members/associates as public speakers, for a fee, to various public interest groups in order to develop an vibrant dialogue of both ideas and processes that will engage both the thinkers and the ordinary people in a concerted attempt to develop a new national consciousness around learning, debating, and championing the various competencies and their persons, so that both ideas and national leaders become respected household names and kitchen table discourse, not focussed exclusively on the economy, as both of the current government and opposition parties would like to have it